Main Engine Cut Off

Episode T+168: SpaceX and ULA Win NSSL Phase 2

The long-awaited news is finally here! ULA and SpaceX have won the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 launch contracts from the US Department of Defense, which leaves Blue Origin’s New Glenn and Northrop Grumman’s OmegA out in the cold. I talk through what this means for each company and launch vehicle, and where things will go from here on all sides of the issue.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 39 executive producers—Brandon, Matthew, Simon, Lauren, Melissa, Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, Grant, David, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, and seven anonymous—and 398 other supporters.

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Thank You to July Supporters!

Very special thanks to the 437 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off for the month of July. MECO is entirely listener- and reader-supported, and it’s your support keeps this blog and podcast going, growing, and improving, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 39 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Brandon, Matthew, Simon, Lauren, Melissa, Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, Grant, David, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, and seven anonymous executive producers.

If you’re getting some value out of what I do here and want to help support Main Engine Cut Off, join the crew of supporters and producers! Don’t forget about Headlines, the extra weekly podcast episode that goes out to all supporters at the $3+ level.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair of Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

Starship SN5 Flew, So Let’s Check In on Some Predictions

Yesterday evening, Starship SN5 took a glorious flight up to 150 meters and down to its landing pad. It was a joy to watch, and other than a small engine fire that probably isn’t much to worry about, looked like a wonderfully successful test, complete with off-axis thrust, attitude control, and great sound.

It’s been almost a year since Starhopper’s flight to a similar altitude, which simultaneously feels recent and ancient. That’s a good reminder of the hectic-yet-steady, fast-yet-slower-than-hoped pace of Starship work.

On that note, back on February 28—mere days before life in the US got turned upside down—I had Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, join me for a Starship discussion on episode T+149 of the podcast. Right around the 43 minute mark, Tim posed four predictions for each of us to make.

I figured now is as good a time as any to check in on those (and I also kind of just wanted to put them in writing somewhere for easy reference). Below are the four scenarios Tim posed and a paraphrased answer from each of us.


1. Will there be a flight of one of these Serial Number 1, 2, 3, etc vehicles before the 20 kilometer attempt?

Anthony: 100% yes. Higher than Starhopper, but not that high.

Tim: Yes, very short hovers, maybe only to 20 meters.


2. When will the 20-ish kilometer flight happen?

Anthony: February 28, 2021 (a year + leap day from recording), and it will be with something like SN6 or SN7.

Tim: They will proceed immediately to the 20 kilometer hop after the short hop. End of May, 2020.


3. How many high-altitude, non-orbital flights will there be?

Anthony: They will do a 6-month-long, 1-flight-per-month-ish test campaign between the 20 kilometer flight and the first orbital attempt.

Tim: 3 non-explosive high-altitude hops before the first orbital attempt.


4. When will the first orbital attempt be?

Anthony: December, 2021

Tim: February, 2021

Episode T+167: Phillip Hargrove, NASA Launch Services Program

Phillip Hargrove, a Launch Vehicle Trajectory Analyst at NASA joins me to talk about NASA’s Launch Services Program. We discuss how LSP interacts with mission teams like Mars 2020 Perseverance, launch providers like United Launch Alliance and SpaceX, and what kind of work they tackle in their unique role tying it all together.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 39 executive producers—Brandon, Matthew, Simon, Lauren, Melissa, Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, Grant, David, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, and seven anonymous—and 398 other supporters.

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Off-Nominal 32 - Well Within the Kill Zone

Jake and Anthony are joined by Lord British himself, Richard Garriott de Cayeux. Richard is a storied video game designer/developer, an entrepreneur, an astronaut who flew to the ISS for a week, and an adventurer with so many tales it’s hard to keep up. Richard is also the son of Owen Garriott, a NASA astronaut who flew on Skylab II and STS-9.

Richard joins us to talk about growing up as the son of an astronaut, to tell tales of spaceflight and undersea adventures, to ruminate on the commercial spaceflight industry, and to blow our minds with stories of dodgy Russian safety protocols.

Also, our fundraiser is over and we’ve made a significant impact on two organizations working hard to bring racial equity to STEM and space. We raised nearly $35,000!

Episode T+166: Laura Klicker and Daniel Gillies, Astrobotic

Two members of the Astrobotic team join me for a conversation: Laura Klicker, Payload Systems Management Lead, and Daniel Gillies, Mission Director for the Griffin/VIPER mission. We talk about Astrobotic’s first Peregrine mission coming up next year, the very exciting VIPER mission to the south pole of the Moon in 2023, payload management across multiple flights, the technical aspects of their various vehicles, and a whole lot more.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Brandon, Matthew, Simon, Lauren, Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, Grant, David, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, and seven anonymous—and 397 other supporters.

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Episode T+165: Caleb Henry on the OneWeb Acquisition, Starlink Antennas, C-Band Drama, and More

Caleb Henry of SpaceNews returns to the show to talk about the OneWeb acquisition and related fallout, Starlink antennas, the ongoing C-band drama including the satellite-buying bonanza, and he helps us understand the FCC-GPS-Ligado situation.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Brandon, Matthew, Simon, Lauren, Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, Grant, David, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, and seven anonymous—and 397 other supporters.

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Episode T+164: An Announcement, and a Check-in on International Space Policy and NSSL Phase 2

To start, there’s exciting news! My son is due at the end of August, and so I’ll be taking some time off after he arrives. Before that, I wanted to check in on two storylines.

Professional shit-stirrer Dmitry Rogozin made it pretty clear that Russia is not interested in the Artemis Program, while various countries around the world partner with NASA on it. And we’re only a few weeks out from the NSSL Phase 2 awards and there is some related budgetary considerations being debated, so it’s a good time to circle back on that.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 38 executive producers—Brandon, Matthew, Simon, Lauren, Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Nadim, Donald, Lee, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, Grant, David, Joonas, Robb, Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut!), Frank, Julian and Lars from Agile Space, Tommy, Adam, and seven anonymous—and 392 other supporters.

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NASA Updates Planetary Protection Policies, Downgrades Most of the Moon

Jeff Foust, for Space News:

The first of what are formally known as NASA Interim Directives revises planetary protection classification of the moon. Mission to the moon had been in Category 2, which required missions to document any biological materials on board but set no cleanliness standards on them. That classification was driven by concerns spacecraft could contaminate water ice at the lunar poles.

Under the new directive, most of the moon will be placed in Category 1, which imposes no requirements on missions. The exceptions will be the polar regions — north of 86 degrees north latitude and south of 79 degrees south latitude — which will remain in Category 2. Regions around Apollo landing “and other historic sites” will also be in Category 2, primarily to protect biological materials left behind by the crewed Apollo landings.

A good plan that Jake of WeMartians fame called months ago. His episode about planetary protection with Dr. Wendy Calvin—a member of the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board that had influence on these changes—is seriously worth a listen.

Let’s take some shots on goal.

Defense Production Act Giveth, Defense Production Act Taketh Away

The rideshare contracts that SMC planned for 6 companies have been withdrawn. The list of companies included—Aevum, Astra, X-Bow, Rocket Lab, Space Vector and VOX Space (Virgin Orbit)—was lacking some big name, high visibility players, and it seems like leaving them out came back to bite.

I’m guessing it was going to be more pain than warranted to see this batch of contracts through to the finish line, unfortunately.

In other Defense Production Act news, LeoLabs is being awarded a $15 million contract. It’s a small amount, but will obviously be a huge help to a small company like LeoLabs. More interesting to me is the fact that the Department of Defense sees LeoLabs as highly valuable, enough so as to make sure they survive 2020.